What is the Difference Between Tier 1, 2 & 3 Behavior Interventions?


Behavior Interventions are strategies schools use to improve student behavior so that all students in a school can achieve social, emotional and academic success. Behavioral expectations are often included within school policies to help students and parents understand the school’s vision for student behavior. These behavioral standards are a way to clarify the habits a school believes a student must have in order to be successful. A behavioral intervention is often put into place when there is a discrepancy between what a school believes an individual student should do and how the student actually behaves.

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) are proactive behavioral supports schools can put in place to support all students. Strong school values, policies and healthy classroom practices are Tier I behavioral interventions because they support all students. Tier II behavioral interventions provide more targeted support to groups of students that need alternative strategies to support their behavioral success. Tier III behavioral interventions are individualized and student-specific.

→  Check out our MTSS/RTI guide to help your team run & improve your MTSS/RTI programs.

Schools Should Reflect Before Developing Behavior Plans

Do you fit perfectly into societal expectations and norms? Is it easy for you to follow behavioral expectations that don’t feel natural to you? In our nation, there are habits and practices that can exclude people that are different. In schools, this can also happen. Students are often “criminalized” for being different. It is important for schools to ensure that they treat students that don’t easily follow the standard behavioral expectations with equity and respect.

There are many factors that inhibit a student’s ability to control their behavior. Student misbehavior can be indicative of unjust rules and practices or unrealistic expectations. School leaders, teachers and parents should reflect on school policies and identify if it is the student’s behavior that needs to change or if school conditions need to be modified.

How Do Schools Put Behavior Interventions in Place?

Tier I behavior interventions are systems schools will already have in place to ensure that the school runs with clarity and efficacy. These expectations and norms will likely be in the student handbook and can be witnessed in day-to-day operations. Tier II and III behavior interventions are more discrete, personalized interventions that should occur through the Response to Intervention (RTI) process for students that don’t have a diagnosed behavioral disability.

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a multi-tier approach schools use to identify students with learning and behavior needs early. Through data collection, intervention, assessment of progress and revised practice, the RTI team is able to make recommendations for continued intervention, accommodations, and services that will decrease academic and behavioral challenges and improve student success.

Read this article to learn more about the RTI process.

If a student has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for a behavioral disability, a behavioral intervention can be established through the special education team at the school.

Tiered Positive Interventions That Support Positive Behavior

All behavior interventions aren’t made equally. The key is to distinguish which practices will work for all students and what adjustments can be made when some students are in need of more support.

Tier I Positive Behavior Interventions

Tier I behavior supports are behavioral strategies that all students have access to. These interventions set the foundation for behavior in the classroom. Without them, teachers will not be prepared to incentivize positive behavior or respond to negative behavior. Here are a few behavior interventions teachers can use to positively reinforce student behavior for all students.

Have a management ladder

Teachers often think about what consequences exist when students don’t meet expectations. That is called a consequence ladder. Instead, teachers should think about a management ladder where self-regulation is in the middle. At the top of this ladder are the ways in which students who are behaving can advance. For example, if a student meets basic expectations, teachers might offer them an opportunity to have a classroom job, lead a part of class or offer some other level of independence or leadership.

Below the basic expectations are modifications of ways teachers can adjust to help students regulate behavior. If a student is struggling, a teacher might redirect the student, provide an alternative workspace or reach out to the parent for extra support if the behavior continues. Thinking strategically about this prepares teachers to reinforce behavior in a positive, productive and predictable way.

Give clear directions

While lesson planning, teachers should consider exactly what they want students to do. Thinking about how students should move, at what volume they should be speaking and what participation looks like will help prevent unwanted behaviors and ensure that students have clarity into the expectation. After directions are given, it’s important that teachers positively narrate the students who are meeting expectations.

Track daily class points

Teachers can give the entire class points when they are collectively meeting expectations. These points can be connected to classroom incentives such as extra break time or a night without homework.

Tier II Behavior Interventions

Sometimes, students will need more specific behavioral supports to succeed. When that is the case, teachers should rely on Tier II and Tier III Positive Behavior Interventions to help students. Tier II interventions apply to a small group or students, and Tier III interventions are individualized. Here are a few Tier II interventions teachers can use to support students:

Behavior Contract

A behavior contract is an agreement between staff and a student where each party receives some benefit or payoff. It describes the behavior that is expected and outlines what students earn if they meet expectations. Teachers benefit from the improved student behavior.

Check In/Check Out System

This system appoints a partner to host strategic check ins at the start and end of the day with students who are struggling with behavioral expectations. Together, they track how effective a student is reaching their goal. Students get a daily rating as ongoing feedback, which helps them adjust their behavior. These ratings may be attached to incentives for the student working to improve.

Break Passes

This intervention is designed for students who exhibit disruptive classroom behavior that interferes with their and other students’ ability to learn. Students are given passes and are taught how to appropriately request a break. This helps students learn to identify their behavioral patterns and advocate for time to readjust. Ideally, overtime, students will be more aware of what influences their behavior changes and will begin to self regulate and adjust without a break.

Tier III Behavior Interventions

If a student is in need of Tier III behavioral supports this is usually decided in a Response to Intervention or Individual Education Plan meeting focused on the student’s behavior. This meeting should include the parent, teachers and relevant service providers. Tier III behavioral supports can really improve student behavior, but they require intentionality. Here are a few Tier III interventions teachers can use to support students.

Individualized Behavior Plan

A behavior plan is a thoughtful, all encompassing plan that clarifies a student’s specific behavior that is impacting learning. A qualified staff member would assess what antecedents trigger the negative behavior. The plan will include an analysis of why the behavior may be happening and clarification of what behavior is desired. Additionally, it will break down a plan of what will need to happen and who will help support a student as they work to reach goals. Behavior plans include ways of monitoring progress and may also involve services, such as counseling or classroom modifications.

All staff that work with the student, including non-instructional persons, will need to review and execute a student’s behavior plan. Adjustments can be made to expedite growth. After a while, students may be able to operate without behavior plans if they continue to progress.


Consistent negative behaviors are often tied to a root cause that students needs to work through. Routinely meeting with the school counselor can help a student get the support that they need to improve their behavioral challenges. With parent approval, this can be very beneficial for the long term stability and success of a student.

Modified Schedule

After multiple interventions, teachers may learn that a student is in a need of a completely different type of school day. This can be created for a student in conjunction with the parent and the RTI team. It can look like strategically thinking about when a student gets a break, transitions from class to class and even where the student starts and ends their day. This individualized approach of looking at the school day can be the key towards helping improve a student’s school experience.

What Makes Behavior Interventions Work?

Schools must consistently reflect on their behavioral practices to ensure that they maintain realistic expectations that are equitable for all students. Teachers, leaders, parents, RTI and special education teams should analyze student behavior data to clarify if students are reaching goals or need more modified support.

Behavior interventions don’t need to last forever. Ideally, they should be temporary systems put into place that help students begin to self-regulate without intervention. Some students may need new interventions after they meet prior behavioral goals. The important thing to remember is that every individual is different. Acknowledging a student’s unique needs should always be at the root of behavior interventions.

Here at Kickboard we have seen many schools turnaround student behavior by using our PBIS mobile app, web platform, and professional development services to support their multi-tiered behavior initiatives. Kickboard helps teachers to track student behavior, identify cultural trends and implement systems to improve behavioral results.